India will have 18 million 5G subscribers by 2025, Ericsson says. In the June issue of Ericsson Mobility Report, the Swedish networking and telecommunications company, projects 2.8 billion 5G subscribers globally by 2025. The numbers are counter to the decline in 5G adoption globally due to the pandemic. The 18 million 5G subscribers in India sits in stark contrast to the reality. Neither India’s telecom ministry nor the leading telecom operators have shared a road map for 5G deployment. Also Read - Xiaomi working on 6G, satellite internet; Lei Jun details 5G plans
5G deployment in India
While 5G trials were held with a lot of enthusiasm last year, the momentum fizzled in the face of financial crunch and outbreak of the pandemic. Patrik Cerwall, Executive Editor of the Mobility Report, said Ericsson expects spectrum auction for 5G in India to happen sometime in 2021. Earlier, it had said that Indian consumers are willing to pay up to 15 percent premium for 5G services. In the current scenario, the first deployment of 5G in India is expected to happen only in 2022 but the ramp up might be faster than 4G in some circles. Also Read - Rural India now has 227 million internet users, 22 million more than urban areas: Report
Ericsson also says 5G subscriptions are expected to reach 190 million by the end of 2020. By 2025, it expects to see 2.8 billion 5G subscriptions around the globe. Ericsson Mobility Report 2020, released last month, is the 18th annual edition from the company. It not only emphasizes the significance of 5G mobile telephony but the resilience of existing networks. Cerwall noted that the network traffic loads shifted from city centers to suburban areas as people started working from home. Also Read - Airtel picks Ericsson for VoLTE expansion in India
Increase in traffic
Whether it’s India, the United States of America or France or South Africa, the common theme this year is increasing traffic. Ericsson says mobile data traffic increased by 14 percent between the fourth quarter of last year and the first quarter of this year. As a consequence of COVID-19 lockdown, Ericsson notes traffic increased by anywhere between 20 and 100 percent. This surge in traffic was mostly absorbed by the fixed residential network. However, in India, the same was not true since the fixed broadband penetration is much lower than mobile broadband.
Ericsson says in India, the consumers are spending more time using 4G than their global counterparts. “During the lockdown, the average time spent on 4G increased by one hour globally. However, in India, the average time spent on 4G went up by 2.2 hours per day,” the company said. The report also highlights that 49 percent of the mobile users in India were using 4G networks at the end of 2019. The number is likely to have gone up with broader access of 4G and availability of more affordable 4G devices in the market.
By increase, Ericsson is not only referring to downlink but also uplink. It notes that since consumers are using services like Zoom for binaural conversations, there has been an increase in uplink speed as well. Ericsson Mobility Report also claims that consumers trust telecom operators more than tech giants during this pandemic. This throws up a new landscape for the industry, which has for long been considered as an industry where consumers are used to making cash and service has often been poor.
Resilient Networks become need of the hour
While the data consumption has gone up significantly during this lockdown, Ericsson says that networks have been coping well. In India, it says that mobile networks have stayed resilient despite the growth in consumption and use of mobile data as mobile hotspots. “Of the consumers asked, 64 percent think it is very important that service providers maintain the resilience and quality of the networks,” Ericsson said in its report. This resilience of the network is further demonstrated by the shift in behavior.
As soon as the countries started imposing lockdown, Ericsson said it saw an increase in voice traffic. However, it lasted only for a few days and consumers shifted to better services like video calling applications. During this time, when consumers stayed indoors, the number of dropped calls also went down. In developed markets like Europe, there was between 20 and 50 percent increase in VoLTE traffic. “Mobile traffic is expected to grow by 31 percent annually between 2019 and 2025,” Ericsson says and notes that most of this will come from video traffic.
Taking 5G to the masses
Ahead of the release of the Mobility Report, Ericsson said a large number of consumers in India already believe that 5G would have eased the strain of the mobile data network during this lockdown. By 2025, 5G will account for an estimated 45 percent of total mobile data. In terms of coverage, 5G is expected to reach 55-65 percent but there is an uncertainty caused by this pandemic. Nitin Bansal, MD, Ericsson India said that every radio shipped by the company since 2015 is software compatible with 5G. In other words, it should be easier for operators like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone using Ericsson gear to enable 5G in the market.
As mentioned earlier, the deployment of 5G is subject to the financial situation of these telecom operators. The recent increase in tariff has given these operators a fresh lease of life but the competition and pandemic has shut doors for new revenue generation. Ericsson sees 4G evolving in the country over the next two years while the government and telcos prepare for 5G roll out. It also says that the real advantage in 5G won’t come from selling data subscription but by selling additional services. This could come in the form of bundled streaming services and access to IoT applications.